From the standpoint of conservation, 2012 will be remembered more for what did not happen than what did happen.
Justifying its place in history as the least productive Congress of all time, the 112th Congress failed to consider the needs of hunters and anglers in a number of big ways. Let’s look at some of the lowlights:
The Farm Bill
Regardless of the strong bipartisan support enjoyed by the Farm Bill, the full bill died in the Senate at the end of 2012. Congress instead passed a nine-month extension that jeopardizes many of the bill’s key conservation programs. If a full Farm Bill fails to pass by October 2013, the Conservation Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and other key conservation provisions will lose billions in conservation dollars.
The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a near party-line vote by Senate Republicans (the exception being Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine) on a procedural motion effectively killed the bill that had drawn broad bipartisan support throughout the legislative process.
Why did this happen? Because Senate Republicans used the bill to make a political point on a totally unrelated issue (filibuster reform) at the expense of sportsmen. Seeing that others were willing to use the bill to make political statements, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) objected to the bill’s provision on lead ammunition. As a result of these political detours, the clock ran out on the Sportsmen’s Act. Now sportsmen have to start all over again in 2013
Congressional inaction was actually a good thing for conservation funding. Instead of passing the House budget bill, which would have gutted most important conservation programs, Congress passed a continuing resolution keeping in place current funding levels through March of 2013.
Similarly, by punting sequestration down the road, sportsmen were spared across-the-board cuts that would have been extremely damaging to programs upon which our outdoor traditions rely. We now must make the case for these important programs as the 113th Congress considers a broader budget deal later in the year.
The 112th Congress succeeded in being the first congress in nearly 70 years to fail to pass a single public lands bill.
After the carnage, a few highlights emerge. Congress passed the RESTORE Act, ensuring that 80 percent of damages from the BP oil spill go back to the Gulf states for restoration. And Congress passed the Billfish Conservation Act, a small but important measure that bans the importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish.
Unfortunately, Congress was not the only disappointment in 2012. The Obama administration has yet to implement many of the oil and gas leasing reforms announced in 2010, and millions of acres of public lands continue to be leased without proper consideration of fish and wildlife and hunting and fishing.
The administration also failed to issue new regulations to affirm that the Clean Water Act applies to isolated wetlands and intermittent streams, an inaction that contributes to massive wetland conversions in the Prairie Pothole region and elsewhere. To its credit, the administration did launch a major new program to work with private landowners to conserve sage grouse and six other species.
Despite the bleak year that has ended, the sporting community is setting new priorities for working with Congress in 2013. Be ready to join in and make your voice heard – our outdoor traditions will depend on it.